The Beginner’s Goodbye, by Anne Tyler, doesn’t disappoint Tyler’s fans who have waited patiently for her nineteenth novel. When Dr. Dorothy Rosales is killed by a falling tree, her husband Aaron is convinced that she visits him from beyond the grave. He believes that Dorothy “faced the fact that we simply missed each other too much. She had given in and returned.” Her irregular visits give him comfort at times. At other times, he feels confused, as if she is giving him a message he doesn’t quite understand, or causes him to relive moments of their lives together. These brief “conversations” prove invaluable to Aaron’s grieving process.
Tyler has a gift for describing the ordinary and the everyday while telling a believable story. Not that seeing an apparition is ordinary, but the characters she creates and the situations she places them in build a common bond between the reader and the characters. Many people have lost loved ones; Aaron finds it irritating to be reminded by expressions of sympathy and the avoidance others suddenly have for using the word “wife.” His refrigerator is full of casseroles to the point that he “bypasses” his plate by simply sampling a dish and dumping the rest in the trash. And, he is weary of people attempting to arrange dates with the newly widowed as if a deceased spouse is a “shared pastime.”
The book isn’t maudlin or depressing. While Aaron works through feelings about his late wife and marriage, he provides a wry editorial on life as a new widower. His occupation also gives moments of comic relief. Aaron edits “The Beginner’s Series” at Woolcott Publishing (which inspires the title of this novel with titles like, “The Beginner’s Book of Birdwatching” or “Beginner’s Jet Lag”) and since it is a vanity press, whose customers pay for the privilege of seeing their writing in print form, submitted content is sometimes the subject of office conversation, too.
The Beginner’s Goodbye is the latest in a string of memorable books by Tyler, including Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, the Pulitzer Prize winning Breathing Lessons, and most recently Noah’s Compass. The Beginner’s Goodbye was published in 2012 by Alfred A. Knopf.